The Islamic Mission in the Multi-Religious Context of East Africa
Dr. Chanfi Ahmed
Dr. Achim v.Oppen
Project period: January 2004 to December 2005
A variety of efforts to advance a "purified Islam
can be observed in East Africa at the moment, even outside the
large urban centres. Offers of conversion and education by new
Islamic "mission" (da_wa) activists clash with established
proselytizing practices as developed by Islamic brotherhoods in
the 20th century, as well as with increased activity by contemporary
Christian missionary movements.
The project examines processes of conversion to and within Islam
from the perspective of competing religious actors and their target
groups, one that is shaped both by translocal connections and
by local interactions. These interactive processes are scrutinized
with regard to the present and to recent history at selected places
in the hinterland of Kenya and Tanzania. At the same time, a contribution
to the currently revived debate on religious conversion is intended.
The project consists of three sub-projects that complement each
other in their empirical and methodological foci.
Discourses of Conversion: Local and Translocal Interactions
of the Islamic Mission in Contemporary East Africa
Abdallah Chanfi Ahmed
This sub-project examines the conversion strategies applied by
competing actors of the Islamic mission in East Africa to convert
Muslims und non-Muslims to their respective version of Islam.
The research focuses, on the one hand, on these actors themselves
and, on the other, their different preaching methods and sites.
The latter include sermons held at Friday prayers, at traditional
festivals and ceremonies, or during welfare meetings, as well
as new forms of "open-air preaching" (mihadhara). The
sermon is looked at as a form of discursive action emanating from
certain religious actors, but influenced in its content, form
and meaning by references to various local and translocal contexts.
Therefore, the study also addresses the origin and instruction
of the preachers as well as their support in East African centres
from more distant organizations and personalities as far away
as the Middle East and South Asia. Debates and expectations present
in the local context are also considered in close collaboration
with sub-project 2. The data base for the study comprises, firstly,
the texts and performance of the sermons themselves, secondly
biographies of and observations on the preachers, and thirdly,
information on their local and translocal networks.
Narratives of Conversion: Islamic Conversion in Contemporary
East Africa as Individual Experience and Social Practice
The focus of this sub-project is on the adherents and converts
of contemporary movements of the Islamic mission (da_wa). Their
experiences, perceptions and practices are examined through their
religious biographies. Contrary to earlier research on processes
of conversion to and within Islam in East Africa, which largely
concentrated on the perspective of social groups, religious organizations
and their leaders, this study takes the individual addressees
of current Islamic conversion movements as its starting point.
Particular attention is paid to popular perceptions of the competition
between the various offers of conversion, as expressed in religious
discourses and practices, with reference to selected locations
in Central Kenya and Northeast Tanzania. The question pursued
here is how and to what extent the competition of religions shapes
the conversion histories of individuals. Methodologically, the
study is primarily based on a series of narrative and biographical
interviews as well as on observations of everyday life. This sub-project
(2) is carried out in close connection with sub-project (1), since
both examine activists and addressees of the Islamic "Mission",
where possible at the same locations.
Practices of conversion: Translations between Islamic and Christian
Missions in East Africa in the 20th Century
Achim VON OPPEN
Unlike the two other sub-projects, which refer to present-day
phenomena, this is a historical study about missionary practice
from c. 1920 to 1980. Its point of departure is less the activists
than the ritual practices of missionary endeavour, asking mainly
for mutual influences of Islamic and Christian missions. The focus
is on the phases of expansion and institutionalization of the
Sufi brotherhoods in East African Islam that paralleled comparable
tendencies in Christian missionary churches and, subsequently,
in independent African churches. On both sides, these developments
were related to an intensification of translocal connections.
The sub-project examines the specific interactions and interdependencies
of the practices of these different religious currents at selected
locations in Northeast Tanzania. The main question addressed is
whether, in the context of interreligious competition, conversion
and mutual borrowing tendencies can also be observed with regard
to proselytizing practices, and if this has resulted in a cross-cutting
arsenal of modern religiosity. The material for this study is
drawn partly from earlier projects of the researcher and partly
from archival sources and religious journals, complemented by
a series of historical interviews and on-site observations.